An entire industry has grown up around walking, a skill most of us mastered by the time we celebrated our first birthday.
There are coaches, expensive shoes, and digital equipment to measure how hard your body is working, how much ground you have covered, and how far you have gone.
Meanwhile, some public health officials in England have weighed in on the subject of walking speed.
And brisk is in.
Middle-aged people are being urged to walk faster to help stay healthy.
This comes amid concerns that high levels of inactivity may be harming the health of older adults.
Exercise fades with age
Officials at Public Health England (PHE) say the amount of activity people engage in starts to tail off after the age of 40.
Just 10 minutes a day could have a major impact, they say, and reduce the risk of early death by 15 percent.
PHE officials estimate four out of every 10 people from 40 to 60 years of age do not manage a brisk 10-minute walk even once a month.
They want to reverse those statistics.
And, not surprisingly, it turns out there’s an app for that.
The public health agency is promoting the free app, known as Active 10. It monitors the amount of brisk walking an individual does, as well as provide tips on how to incorporate more walking into a daily routine.
Putting your best foot forward
Doctors have been urging their patients for years to sit less and walk more.
They say it’s easy to get started.
Dr. Sushma Koneru, FACC, is a cardiologist at the Orlando Health Heart Institute in Florida.
“People think they need to go to the gym,” she told Healthline. “In fact, walking is as good as running for cardiovascular health. As long as you have comfortable shoes, it will be fine.”
She’s singing the same song as her counterparts in England.
Dr. Lola Abudu, director of health and well-being at PHE West Midlands, said, “Physical activity is a vital part of remaining healthy, and inactivity among adults contributes to 1 in 6 deaths in the U.K., the same as smoking.”
“We know that taking at least one 10-minute brisk walk a day can reduce the risk of early death by 15 percent, while a good level of activity each week can provide a multitude of health benefits,” she told The Evesham Journal.
What is brisk walking?
As far as “brisk” walking is concerned, Koneru provides help with that, too.
She said the ideal is 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week, and it’s not hard to get started.
“Taking 100 steps per minute is brisk walking. Or figure 3 miles per hour. Twelve city blocks in a mile,” she said. “You should feel like you’re exercising. You should feel warm and breathe a little faster.”
There’s also the “talk test.”
“You’re walking at a good pace if you are not so out of breath you can’t talk to someone.”
The idea is to get your heart rate up to a certain level. You can figure out what it should be by subtracting your age from 220.
Koneru said that at age 40 people are on the cusp of developing bad habits that can lead to deadly disease.
“If you start walking now, you can still reduce your blood pressure, prevent diabetes, and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke,” she said.
How to find time to walk
Most people can work some walking time into their daily lives, Koneru said.
She suggested parking farther away from work or taking time during a lunch hour.
The health benefits from walking are so well-known that many organizations and charities sponsor walks to raise funds and awareness.
There are other motivations, too.
A study published in June by BMC Public Health found that owning a dog appeared to increase activity levels in older adults.
Having a safe place to walk makes it easier to commit to a program. That’s where organizations such as America Walks come in.
Heidi Simon, the organization’s director of partnerships and communication, explained to Healthline what the organization does.
“We’re not a walking group but an advocacy one,” she said. “We promote walkable communities, where you have everything nearby. That way you can walk to work, walk to school, walk to the park, or the grocery store.”
It’s a concept to be applied nationwide, not just in new, planned communities. And, in fact, many big cities have neighborhoods that function as small walkable towns.
“The idea is to give the space back to the people,” Simon said. “Streets were designed for people first, before there were cars.”
It’s an idea that can be adapted anywhere, she said. “People want livable communities and the demand is growing.”
The organization is not opposed to automobiles, she said, just to their domination of the landscape.
“Part of [our work] is changing the conversation,” Simon said. “There are other alternatives.”
Noting the health benefits of walking, she added that walkable neighborhoods reduce traffic fatalities and even make people happy.
“When you are walking and you meet people, you have a lovely time of it,” she said.